Honesty is a crucial tenet of recovery from mental illness. It’s important to be honest with those around you, and I’ll discuss precisely why. It’s perhaps more important to be honest with yourself, however. Self awareness is a saving grace, and is a prerequisite to healing from mental illness.
I consider myself to be a highly self aware person, to my benefit and detriment. My disorders aren’t based in things that I can control but have yet to find a cure for. In fact, the OCD element behind almost everything that I do turns my main struggle into a daily battle to implement the vast swath of knowledge that I do have about my illnesses, and use that implementation to make progress. My brain knows one thing, and my body does another. That just about sums me up.
Lots of mental illness recovery is this way, if the patient is self aware. This usually comes about through talk therapy. Therapists can identify points for improvement and will tell you where you are and steps that you need to take to get where you need to go. It helps to be a naturally self aware person who is curious about their own illness and does research to improve their odds. I consider myself in both categories.
What is your biggest interpersonal challenge? What is your greatest fear? What are your outstanding memories from childhood? What is at the basis of failed relationships? When are you most prone to lashing out? These are all questions that a therapist will ask, that you can ask yourself, too. They’re the keys to doors that lead to recovery from mental illness.
I knew a boy once- a boy in manner and mind, not in age- who was otherwise a good person, but his lying was so profound, to himself and others, that it turned him into an unsavory one, at best. I rarely believe that people can be “bad people,” but some folks lie so constantly and compulsively that I have trouble sparing the language. Not only do people who lie frequently harm those around them, eventually and always, but they hinder themselves in their treatment. This boy fools those around him, yes, but the most important fool he makes is of himself. Lying to yourself about who you are, what your symptoms are, what your best therapeutic path forward is, is a guarantee of failure to heal.
I knew a girl once who couldn’t stop telling people that she was suicidal and that she was cutting. She had a condition that compelled her to do so, but nevertheless, she didn’t understand that her condition made her claim to be suicidal when she admittedly wasn’t. She’d claim to have cut her wrists, but with clean forearms all the while. This girl wasn’t opening up, somewhere along the line, and she’s probably still spinning tales, further sinking down into a grave of deceit. I feel for her, like I feel for the boy.
I knew a woman, the boy’s mother, who is a former alcoholic and who attends AA frequently. Despite this seeming pathway to higher knowledge, she is in denial about her son’s condition and spends much of her time pretending that things are different from how they really are, both with herself, her family dynamic, and her son. Yes, she is an AA frequenter, but even she hasn’t taken a fierce moral inventory, as the program would dictate.
If they genuinely were committed to living healthy, happy lives, they’d take that fierce moral inventory. But it’s hard. It’s really, really difficult work to analyze oneself and be objective, or as objective as possible even. Having a mental illness, however, is harder. If folks really want to improve, it’s time to inventory.
Here’s my inventory, in short.
I have a long list of disorders. They make me afraid to attach myself to people, and afraid to let go. I can be distant and I can come on too strong, and that dichotomy can be confusing to others. I have a lot of “daddy issues,” one could say, that will have me behave in ways that date back to childhood, ways that I have to search myself to understand. Understanding unlocks repudiation of the behavior. Cutting didn’t serve me well. I’ve stopped. My phone is an OCD trap, and I shouldn’t use it frequently or have much to do with social media. I’m limiting my phone time. I apologize as often as I inhale, and I’m working on that. PTSD will make my body work in strange ways, send adrenaline rushes and twitches and shivers and tears when they seem unwarranted. I should be gentle on myself when my symptoms arise. I get frustrated when people are late, and I am working on being more patient. My worst time of day is at night; I become disproportionately upset in comparison to reality (I can use this understanding to ride the nightly wave). I sometimes assume that people are thinking things that never even dawned upon their minds, so I’m working on not “mind reading.” I want to help people desperately- it’s all I care about- but in order to do so most effectively, I have to take good care of my body and mind. I have to. And I may never reach a place where I want to take care of myself just for the sake of it. That’s okay. No judgement.
These come from the bottom of my heart, and they also barely scratch the surface of what I’ve discovered about myself. You can discover as much, too. It generally starts with a therapist. I cannot stress enough the importance of finding a therapist you feel compelled to open up to. I’ve loved the therapists I’ve had, but the one I had for five years saw me through two abusive relationships that I couldn’t open up to her about, so I switched.
My new therapist is very interested in giving me reading material. I hunger for an ever greater understanding of my conditions, as if by knowing everything, I can vanquish them. It’s a bit of an illusion- the real work is in practice, not in intellectualization- but I encourage you to read up on what you’re diagnosed with. The boy I referenced earlier is in denial about his own condition. Until he relinquishes the vice grip he has on his false reality, he won’t recover.
We all have our little false realities. Our egos inflate and deflate our sense of self. We have cognitive distortions and false brain messages are fired constantly. A combination of therapy, medication and intrapersonal moral inventory are necessary to rise above that all.